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International Day of the Girl Child 2021: How to raise strong children

During difficult times, how do we keep the eye on the prize — raising healthy and resilient children who can become strong and caring adults who, as my mother says, can pay the rent?

I turned to some of experts and thoughtful people who often speak to CNN Science and Wellness, and I found their words apply to all of our children — and maybe adults, too.

“It’s easy for girls to get the message that how they look matters above all. What counts is inside,” said Damour, author of “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girl,” via email.

“What counts is how clever, funny, kind, creative and decent girls are,” said Damour. “Focusing too much on one’s container — as the world would have girls do — robs time that could (and should!) be spent cultivating one’s contents.”

What role do you want to play?

Don’t to give in into the expectations and societal norms that are projected onto girls and women, advised Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
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Those norms include gender wage gaps, not speaking first in meetings, or being the primary household keepers, we will continue to live in a world without change.

“I encourage girls everywhere to think of what role they want to play in generational change, and how they want to show up in the world differently from generations past. Find yourself a strong female role model, and don’t be afraid to go against the grain, ask too many questions, or follow your dreams.”

Make your home a ‘brave space’

“Self-confidence and assertiveness skills are interlinked,” said Katie Hurley, child and adolescent therapist and author of “No More Mean Girls” and “The Happy Kid Handbook,” via email.

“When girls feel empowered to speak up and share their feelings, thoughts, and ideas with others, they build their self-confidence. The catch is that they need some amount of self-confidence to take that first step.

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“What parents can do is make sure their home is experienced as a brave space for their daughter. When girls know their parents are there to listen with empathy and love them unconditionally, they find the strength to speak up. This is where assertiveness skills are born and honed, in the brave spaces where they feel empowered to stand up and speak up.”

Teach girls how strong they are

“Far too many of the girls I work with see their body in a critical way,” said psychologist John Duffy, author of “Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety,” via email. “They see flaws, and they see the purpose of their body as a means of attraction.”

Tell your daughter know how strong she is, said Duffy, specifically using the word “strong.”

“The word itself is powerful and meaningful,” he said.

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“Teach them to see their body as strength as well. Encourage them to exercise, lift and run. Do so with her if it gets her motivated. Let them see the agency they can exert over their body.”

Introduce your loved ones

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen’s mother passed away 11 years ago.

“I think about her every day, especially as I’m now a mother myself to two toddlers, a boy and a girl,” said Wen, an emergency physician and author of a new book, “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.”

“There is so much I wish I could have said to my mother, and I wish so much that she could have gotten to know my kids.

“On this International Day, I want to remind my children of all those people in their lives who are no longer here with us, but whose influence and legacy are very much a part of them. Now, and in the years to come, I want to tell my kids all about my mother, and of the lessons she taught me –and, soon, them, too.”

Read together

Open your children’s minds to different ways of thinking and being in the world by reading to them, suggested children’s author Kate DiCamillo, whose notable books include “Because of Winn-Dixie” and “Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures.”

“I have been particularly struck by these lines from an (Ursula K. Le Guin) essay entitled ‘The Operating Instructions’,” she wrote via email.

“‘What a child needs, what we all need, is to find some other people who have imagined life along lines that make sense to us and allow some freedom, and listen to them. Not hear passively, listen. Listening is an act of community which takes space, time, and silence. Reading is a means of listening.'”

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